The Worship that God Despises
By Tom HoltA great number of churches, I recently read, have been enjoying incredible growth of late. Some of them have well over ten thousand worshippers every Sunday. For one thing, the report explains, that's because an increasing number of baby boomers have somehow become interested in spiritual things. For another, individual churches have been remarkably successful in formatting their services to appeal to the popular taste of today's churchgoers.
There's no mention in that report, though, whether such new service formats are pleasing to our Lord. But the Bible makes it very clear that not all kinds of worship are acceptable to God. Criticizing the Israelites of old, the Lord says in Amos 5:21-23:I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols.In short, God found their worship so disgusting that even the songs they sang were offensive to His ear. Regarding God's wrath against Israel, the Bible warns in I Corinthians 10:11, "all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition." With that in mind, I think it's appropriate for us to examine why God resented the worship of the Israelites so much. And an exegesis of Hosea 6:4-11 can be most helpful in this regard.
Ephemeral reverenceThis passage begins in verse 4, "O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away."
A morning cloud and the early dew are both fleeting. And that's how God describes the worship of the Israelites. While they went through the rituals of adoration, they seemed godly and sincere, but their "goodness" was short-lived. As soon as the assemblies dispersed, they would hurry back to seek their worldly pleasures. So God says, What am I going to do with you?
Behind that rhetorical question is God's frustration with the Israelitesa frustration well reflected in Isaiah 5:3,4:And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?The Jews were a special people to God. He had given them all kinds of blessings. But instead of good fruit, it brought forth wild grapes. No wonder God remarked, "Judge for yourself! What more could I have done for you."
Mercy, not sacrifice.
God can very well ask the same of many churches of our day for their worship, like that of the Israelites, is superficial and short-lived. Many congregations actually begin and end their services very early on Sunday morning so that the attendees can have most of the Sabbath free to do their own things. If we are such worshippers, we might as well just stay home, for God says: "For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings" (v. 6).
You see, God knows our heart. We can with great enthusiasm sing spiritual songs and choruses, shout "Praise the Lord" and "Amen" again and again, but if we do not have the love of Christ and the love for God in our heart and if we do not have a personal appreciation of who God is and what He has done, then He would just look at us and say, "What am I going to do with you?"
To emphasize that God hates hypocrites, Jesus declares in John 4:23, "The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him." Our prayers, praises and thanksgiving must come earnestly from the inner most of our being, lest we are faking our worship.
No better than pagansThe other charges God brings against Israel and Judah in Hosea 6 are equally timely. For example, God says in verse 7, "But they like men have transgressed the covenant..."
To understand what "transgressed the covenant" means, let's turn to the last chapter of the Book of Hebrews. Near the end there, we read this prayer: "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
The blood of the everlasting covenant is the blood of Christ that covers our sins. That's the covenant under which we can enter into God's rest. And Hebrews 4:10 states, "For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works." Meaning: We who rely on the finished work of Christ on the cross to save us must cease to do our own works in an effort to enter heaven. We must recognize that our salvation comes entirely from God.
The sad fact is, some of today's largest Christian denominations insist that to have eternal life, one must do good works, make a decision to accept Christ, be baptized in water, etc. Like men, they have transgressed the covenant; they are no better than pagans.
Treacherous dealings. God continues in verse 7, "there have they dealt treacherously against me," and in verse 10, "I have seen an horrible thing in the house of Israel: there is the whoredom of Ephraim, Israel is defiled." In short, God condemns Israel for engaging in spiritual adultery.
Elaborating on that charge, God states in Jeremiah 3:20,21: "Surely as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have ye dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel, saith the Lord . A voice was heard upon the high places, weeping and supplications of the children of Israel: for they have perverted their way, and they have forgotten the Lord their God."
In this passage, God describes Israel as having treacherously departeth from God because they have "perverted their way" and "have forgotten the Lord their God". Significantly, those churches that have been enjoying extraordinary growth are particularly guilty of such disobedience. Quite commonly, for example, their worship services are led by woman pastors, something God expressly forbids. And their leaders not only condone, but actually encourage at times divorces by couples having marriage problems. God is no doubt saying, "I have seen an horrible thing in the house of Israel."
Instruments of deathWe next read in verse 8: "Gilead is a city of them that work iniquity, and is polluted with blood."
Gilead was the chief city in the land beyond Jordan that was given to the tribes of Gad and Reuben, and the half tribe of Manasseh. Those two and a half tribes were part of the northern nation of Israel, all the kings of which were wicked. God sent many prophets to warn them against their persistent rebellion, but instead of repenting, they killed those prophets. Thus, the city was polluted with blood.
The churches today, of course, do not murder people, at least not physically. But to the extent that they have muffed the voice of true believers that are faithful to the Word of God, they have, figuratively speaking, murdered the saints.
This is the figure, in fact, the Bible uses in Revelation 13:15. Speaking of the end-time church, it says that Satan has given life unto the image of the beast so that it should "cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed."
Priests did murder. We read further in verse 9, "And as troops of robbers wait for a man, so the company of priests murder in the way by consent: for they commit lewdness."
The term "by consent" is from a Hebrew word that is so translated only in this verse. Otherwise, it appears more than sixty times in the King James Bible as "Shechem". In the Modern King James version, in fact, this middle part of the verse reads, "the company of priests murder in the way of Shechem."
You see, God is likening the religion of the Israelites to the massacre recorded in Genesis 34. Back then, a pagan named Shechem fell in love with Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob, and he defiled her. In remorse, Shechem pleaded to Dinah's father and her twelve brothers, saying, "Let me find grace in your eyes, and what ye shall say unto me I will give" (v. 11). In response, the brothers told Shechem and his father Hamor:In this will we consent unto you: If ye will be as we be, that every male of you be circumcised; Then will we give our daughters unto you, and we will take your daughters to us, and we will dwell with you, and we will become one people (vv. 15,16).Trusting that Jacob and his family would truly be peaceable with them, Hamor convinced the men of his city to agree to those terms. And so every male was circumcised. But while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob's sons, Simeon and Levi, attacked the unsuspecting city and killed every male therein.
False gospels. Spiritually, many of today's churches are committing that same lewdness. When preachers offer gospels other than that of the Bible, they are really a "company of priests" deceiving people into thinking that they are at peace with God. But in actuality, they are condemning them to eternal punishment in hell.
Of such prophets, the Lord Jesus says in Matthew 23:15, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves."
A set time of harvestGod won't let them get away with it, though. First, He said in verse 5, "Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth: and thy judgments are as the light that goeth forth."
The first half of that statement is expressed in the past tense because these false worshippers had already been condemned by the Word of God, especially since many prophets had been sent to warn them. Later, God did judge those two nations, and the judgments were indeed as clearly visible to all nations as light shines through the darkness.
Eternal punishment. But that's not all. The chapter concludes in verse 11, saying, "Also, O Judah, he hath set an harvest for thee, when I returned the captivity of my people."
A commentary of this harvest is found in Matthew 13, where Jesus is telling the parable of the tares of the
field. He first says that the kingdom of God is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field. His enemy later came and sowed tares among the wheat. When the servants asked if they should gather the tares up, he answered, "Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them" (v. 29).
Later, the Lord explains, the One who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man, the enemy that sowed the tares is the devil and that the harvest is the end of the world. Of the latter, we read in verses 40-42:As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.This, then, is the destiny of all those in the church who have not really been born again. These pseudo-Christians have been worshipping alongside the true believers. But God has found their worship detestable, and will ultimately gather them out of the church and cast them into the furnace of eternal hell fire.
Last Day. When will that take place? When God returns the captivity of His people, it says here. This language is usually used in the Bible to denote the moment when individual believers become saved. We see that, for instance in Ephesians 4:7,8: "But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men."
But here, the context has to do with the harvest of the apostate Judah, so God is referring to the Last Day, when Christ comes to take believers home to heaven. In other words, the glorious day when believers are raptured will be Judgment Day for phony worshippers.
Beloved, these are stern words of warning from our Lord. With the Last Day fast approaching, it behooves all of us to examine ourselves to see what kind of worshippers we are.
Remember, the Father seeks those who worship Him in spirit and in truth, those who have saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. That we are attending a huge and growing church does not necessarily render our worship acceptable to God. But remember also, Psalm 34:18 promises: "The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit." o
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